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Making a List of Everything That Exists

I once read an introductory philosophy book that suggested philosophy is an activity something like this: make a list of everything that exists.  Then discuss what goes on the list.  Do numbers?  Does God?  Does the stock exchange?  How about the sky — does the sky go on the list?  Are people on the list or only gravity waves.

What does it mean — make a list of everything that exists?   How would you do it?  Why would you?  Why would you think you could?

Could there be a person who believed in God, and then made the list, and noticed God was not on it, and then realized God did not exist?

What a strange thing to believe, that you could make such a list.  I wonder why I ever believed it.

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3 thoughts on “Making a List of Everything That Exists

  1. “What does it mean — make a list of everything that exists?”

    It seems like a grammatical exercise, no? I don’t know that philosophy is necessarily an activity like it but I can see it being an interesting activity as far as thought experiments go. It puts the word ‘exist’ under the spotlight and the exploration seems worthwhile for the interested person. Your immediate questions highlight a few things quite quickly– if it’s not physical, can it be said to exist? etc.

    I don’t understand this thought experiment: “Could there be a person who believed in God, and then made the list, and noticed God was not on it, and then realized God did not exist?”

    If the person believes in God and is sincere, devout, etc., there’s a good chance that it would be the first thing on their list; perhaps even their first point of certainty. If they didn’t include it, I would think it either means that their use/understanding of the word ‘exist’ is limited to say, physical objects, or visible things, or what-have-you, or perhaps reveals that their ‘belief’ is very different to how many others understand ‘belief’.

    Do your thoughts take you in different directions on this?

  2. It’s interesting you bring up what would be the first thing on the list. I was thinking if you just start looking around and think — well the esc key on my keyboard the f1 key, the f2 key, my pants, the bird on the bush outside, the bush outside, the f3 key, my heartburn — maybe — put that on later, the f4 key, my left ear, you might never get to God. It’s obviously a list that would take longer to complete than a human life.

    • I suppose in different people approaching it differently, for some, it might be an exercise in certainty, starting from the most obvious or the most unquestionable leading down to the ones where you appreciate there might be an element of doubt (in a similar way to way to how, in the example you gave above, heartburn is a maybe or, for that person, at least further down the list). For the truly religious man, I could imagine it being the very first when the question is put to him. I don’t want to suggest that all ‘believers’ would automatically follow the same course but then that’s what I meant by it leading to an exploration of ‘belief’.

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